Mothers and fathers both play important roles in the lives of their children. Parenting is an incredible responsibility, as God entrusts these little souls into our care and allows us to help shape and mold them in a way that will impact them for the rest of their lives.
A recent study on family spirituality showed that Christians are more likely to say their mother influenced their faith than their fathers. The Barna study pointed out that teenagers were also more likely to pray with their mother than their father.
When it comes to the issue of who Christians say impacted their faith, 68 percent said their mother’s faith influenced them. Another 46 percent said their father’s faith impacted them, while 37 said their grandparent’s faith did.
Is this a new trend?
Although the study might seem shocking, it is not a new discovery that Christians credit their mother for influencing their faith the most.
In May 2007, Barna released a similar study, which concluded the same thing: mothers have a larger impact on the faith of a child.
The study concluded that when women are compared to men, “women are more likely to communicate about faith, prioritize activities that develop their faith and that of their children, and they are more vulnerable about their needs and emotions.”
In summary, they concluded that mothers are more active in their faith, more likely than fathers “to attend church, pray, read the Bible, participate in a small group, attend Sunday school, and volunteer some of their time to help a non-profit organization.”
The study also pointed out that “three-quarters of moms said their faith is very important in their life, while this view was true among just two-thirds of fathers.”
David Kinnaman, President of The Barna Group and the one who directed the study, pointed out that women in America tend to have higher levels of spiritual sensitivity and engagement compared to men.
“Men generally lag behind the spirituality of women – and particularly so if they are not a father,” he said. “In other words, having children intensifies the spiritual commitment of men, but even so most fathers still do not measure up to the spiritual footprint of their parenting counterparts.”
Do mothers and fathers play different roles in the eyes of children?
Although both recent and past Barna studies detailed that a mother’s faith frequently impacts a child more than their fathers, there is significant research that places an emphasis on the importance the father’s role.
Michael Lamb, a psychology professor at the University of Cambridge, points out that there are specific things children seek out their parents for. For instance, when children are upset or stressed, they turn to mom. Meanwhile, if they are feeling playful, they will turn to dad for a fun break.
If the mother figure is traditionally seen more as the comforter, then chances are they impact their child in the way that they comfort. This does not mean fathers should not comfort, or aid children in a spiritually nurturing way. If anything, the recent study from Barna brings forth the argument that fathers need to be more involved with both the emotional and spiritual side of their children’s lives.
Dante Spetter, a lecturer in extension at Harvard University, points out that the influence parents have on their children starts when they are babies, and carries into their adult life.
Spetter points out that “when children become parents, they look to their parents as to what they should and should not do.”
“For young girls in particular,” he added, “their fathers can make a huge impact on their self-esteem and how they grow into women.”
S. Michael Crave, a Christian author and columnist, argues that while the absence of a father is consequential in every child’s life, it’s their spirituality that is impacted the hardest.
In a 2011 column, Crave pointed out that the religious practice of a father is a large determining factor on a child’s future church attendance. Crave cited a study from the Swiss government, which examined the impact a mother and father’s church attendance has on their children.
The study, which was published in 2000, found that “it is the religious practice of the father of the family that, above all, determines the future attendance at or absence from church of the children.”
“In short, if a father does not go to church — no matter how faithful his wife’s devotions — only one child in 50 will become a regular worshipper,” Crave pointed out. “If a father does go regularly, regardless of the practice of the mother, between two-thirds and three-quarters of their children will become churchgoers (regular and irregular).”
What now for Christian fathers?
According to Ross Parke, author of “Future Families: Diverse Forms, Rich Possibilities,” children are constantly absorbing the interactions of their parents, and they play a role in their long-term growth.
“Your kids are watching you through the corner of their eyes. They’re absorbing all kinds of interactions — parents with each other, parents with visitors, parents in supermarkets — all of the time,” Parke pointed out. “These (observations) are of central importance in terms of the passage of normals, mores, and lessons.”
David Dollahite, a professor of family life at Brigham Young University, argues that the way a child views their father impacts how they view God.
“If one’s own father was a relatively positive presence in their lives, you are more likely to have a positive relationship with God,” Dollahite wrote. “On the other hand, if a person’s own father was absent or abusive or otherwise fairly dysfunctional, it is more likely that a person will struggle to have a healthy relationship with God.”
If a child’s belief in God is subconsciously affected by the actions, interactions, and presence of their father, then it only makes sense that fathers should be incredibly aware of both their relationship with their children and with God.
1. Spend time each day reading the Bible and praying with your kids
Whether it’s reading the Bible in the morning as a family, or reading Bible stories before bed, there are always opportunities to study the Bible together. If you set an example for your children by spending time reading the Bible every day, your children will have a higher chance of mimicking your behavior.
Proverbs 22:6 reminds us: “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”
2. Use every opportunity to teach your children about God
Rather than just expecting your children to learn the Bible in Sunday School, or at various church activities, use everyday opportunities to teach your children about God.
Deuteronomy 6:7 reads: “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
Here, Moses instructs fathers to teach their children in all aspects of life. Use each and every opportunity that comes your way to teach your children about God.
3. Become more emotionally available
Over the past couple of decades, the traditional roles of women and men in the household have altered slightly, with both parents growing increasingly more versatile.
Vern Bengtson, the author of “Families and Faith: How Religion Is Passed Down Across Generations,” argues that modern dads should push to be more emotionally available for their children because this will actually encourage their children to stick with religious practices in the long run.
He concluded that one of his studies showed that when a father and child have a close relationship, 56 percent have a shared religion, while only 36 percent of fathers and kids with a weak relationship share the same religious practices.
Ephesians 6:4 reads: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
The job of both the mother and the father is to steer their child towards growth in their relationship with God. Each and every day should be dedicated to walking with your child in the direction that God’s Word points them.